Health Check for Financial Reporting Tools: Are They Helping or Hindering Your Finance and IT Teams?
As organizations grapple with ever-fluctuating business conditions, they may overlook the need to regularly examine the health of current financial systems and processes. It’s important not to assume that using an ERP system like Oracle E-Business Suite (EBS) and its related tools meets all of your finance team’s reporting needs. Taking the time to determine the fitness of your applications for streamlining financial processes—and whether additional software might be more efficient—can result in faster, more accurate data for better business decisions. For this reason, it’s important to step back and ask critical questions about the tools you use for reporting processes.
What Tools Are at Finance’s Disposal for Reporting Activities?
First, make a list of all tools used for each financial reporting activity, such as financial statement creation, period-end closes, and ad-hoc queries of financial data. In an Oracle EBS environment, reporting tools could include standard Oracle reports, the Oracle Financial Statement Generator (FSG) and Discoverer, as well as reports from applications like Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (OBIEE). Also, make sure to include supporting tools like Microsoft Excel, which finance teams like to use for formatting and presenting EBS data.
Next, have the finance team estimate how much time they spend with each tool to accomplish a specific reporting activity. For example, what reporting tools do you need to close the books each month and how much time do you spend with each of them to accomplish this?
What Are the Functionality Gaps Finance Users Experience with Current Tools?
After identifying all tools and estimating which are used most, ask the finance team why they are spending their time with certain tools for a particular activity. This can help identify gaps between what your tools do and what the finance team really needs them to do. Below are examples of questions to ask about the tools where you spend the most time:
- Does the team feel comfortable or frustrated with the current tool set?
- Is the reporting tool’s user interface (UI) intuitive or not and why?
- Do reports from the tools you use present the data as you would like to see it?
- Do have to wait for IT support to create custom reports or an ad-hoc query because the reporting tool’s complexity won’t allow you to create your own?
- Do you have to wait overnight for the data to refresh in a data warehouse or do you have access to real-time data?
- Are you constantly exporting data from Oracle reporting tools to Excel where you can better format reports or to reflect EBS data updates in your reports?
- Are you spending time reconciling EBS data with the data in your BI tool?
- Are you having trouble getting to the details behind the numbers because they’re difficult to access and you need IT help to drill down into sub ledgers?
Asking these and other hard questions about how your Oracle and other reporting tools are helping or hindering finance processes will reveal missing functionality that could better streamline financial processes. This might also make a case for additional reporting software.
What Type of Burden Does the Current Tool Set Place on IT Resources?
Taking the time for an application health check is just one obstacle to attaining more efficient financial processes. Your IT Resources may resist the exercise and the potential result of recommendations for additional software to implement, maintain and support. But giving your finance team tools that really fit its functional requirements lets you leverage both your Oracle investment, as well as the most valuable asset of all—human capital.
The IT team needs to examine how much time it spends responding to requests from finance users to create and update reports using current tools. Creating, testing, and then implementing requires a significant amount of time that takes away from IT’s larger goals. If this process has become a burden for the IT staff, not to mention frustrating for finances users, maybe a new reporting application makes more sense than the status quo.
What are the Characteristics of a Reporting Tool that Meets the Needs of Both Finance and IT?
If the finance team and IT agree that new reporting tool software is worth exploring, then both parties should look for functionality that improves current processes. Considering some of the limitations of Oracle reporting options, here are some characteristics Finance should look for from new reporting software:
- Flexibility – Will the software let finance users create and maintain reports without help from IT?
- Speed – Does the reporting tool access and report EBS data in real-time so there is no waiting for the data warehouse to refresh or reformatting of data in Excel?
- User Interface – Is the user interface friendly enough to support a short learning curve?
- Automation – Does the tool eliminate steps from the reporting process, such as manual exports of data to Excel?
- Data Visibility – Will the software give finance users a fast and easy view of details behind report numbers?
Here are some additional considerations for the IT team when assessing new reporting tools:
- Implementation – Does the software install quickly as opposed to a lengthy implementation?
- Security – Does the new software adhere to existing Oracle security roles?
- Migration – Will reports upgrade with new Oracle releases, as with changes in architecture or charts of accounts, so that they don’t have to be re-created or converted?
When it comes to reporting tools in the Oracle EBS environment, it’s a good practice to undergo a routine annual examination of reporting health to make sure processes are running as smoothly as possible. Taking the history and vital signs of financial reporting ensures that both Finance and IT are functioning at the highest possible levels of productivity.